Each morning, the bakery L’Appartement 4F opens at 8 a.m., but when I arrived just after 7:45 on a recent weekday, I was already 15th in line. There were women in yoga pants and white-haired men in cargo shorts and several people reading novels. There was at least one person who was genuinely French, and several more were dressed as though they might be.
Lines are unusual in this part of town. Montague Street, the well-heeled and tree-lined retail stretch in Brooklyn Heights where L’Appartement 4F resides, is mostly known for being kinda dead. But over the past couple of weeks, since the bakery made its debut, the line has been like this each morning, except on weekends, when it is even more robust. (“The only other time I’ve seen a line like that on Montague was for COVID tests during Omicron,” marveled one of my colleagues.)
Every day, baker Gautier Coiffard tells me, they seem to sell out slightly earlier. Last week, on a Wednesday, all of the croissants were gone by 9:32 a.m. Somehow, even among all the bakeries that have opened in New York in the past two years, and among all the other businesses that generate lines of customers, the pastries from L’Appartement 4F are uniquely sought after, and that has created a dilemma for its first-time proprietors: How do they turn immediate success into long-term sustainability?
The storefront, a former Emack & Bolio’s ice cream shop, is small and sun-filled and adorable, with giant bay windows and seating on the second floor. The menu is small and very French and unencumbered by extraneous weight: plain croissants, pain au chocolat, almond croissants, almond croissants stuffed with raspberry ganache, almond croissants layered with Nutella, ham-and-cheese croissants, and — a nod to Coiffard’s adopted home — “croissants à touts,” which are plain croissants topped with everything-bagel seasoning. (Coiffard was initially skeptical of this idea but has since conceded that “it’s actually very good.”) The croissants are airy but not puffy; they are flaky but do not, like lesser croissants, flake into a pile of rubble when you bite. They are exquisitely buttery, with a glutinously satisfying chew. There are also cookies — “It’s New York; you need to have cookies,” Coiffard explains — and boules and still-warm-from-the-oven sourdough baguettes.
To hear Coiffard tell it, the story of L’Appartement 4F is a Franco–New York fairy tale. A software engineer by trade, he started baking because he couldn’t find a croissant that met his standards and was walking distance from the Cobble Hill appartement (4F) he shares with his wife, Ashley, a school nurse, who is also his partner in this venture. They started baking on Instagram, in February 2020, and a few months later, once the flour shortage settled, they posted a menu online. “And then right away,” Coiffard recalls, “strangers started buying from us.”
One influencer posted a croissant, and then another. Ashley handled all of the marketing, and she was very good at it. “Yeah, the food is good,” says Coiffard, “but I don’t know if it’s even 50 percent of the whole thing.”
By March 2021, it had become clear that this was no longer a side hustle. “We were thinking, this is too much. There were trays of cookies all over the apartment,” says Coiffard. The idea was to rent production space, but a customer in finance offered to take a look at their numbers and determined a commissary kitchen made no sense: They needed retail. “So we started looking for spaces,” he says. “And maybe a week later, the Brooklyn Heights Association reached out to us.” It had done a survey about revitalizing Montague Street and the neighborhood wanted a bakery, and one of its members happened to be a customer of L’Appartement 4F. Were they interested? To raise money for the build-out, the couple launched a Kickstarter with handmade mini-croissant cereal as the $50 reward and immediately went viral yet again.
On TikTok, the cereal — Ashley’s idea — sparked awe and also outrage. It was adorable: Dozens and dozens of doll-size, hand-rolled croissants that had been dehydrated and dipped in cinnamon sugar. It was, by all accounts, delicious. It was also $50 for cereal, which was never meant to be the price — it was a Kickstarter reward! — but had the advantage of launching a minor news cycle of its own (Newsweek: “New Yorker’s Bowl of $50 Mini-Croissant Cereal Divides Opinion”). Combined with $60,000 in loans and their repurposed wedding fund, the Kickstarter was enough to sign the lease. Coiffard quit his software job in January.
The couple knew they’d have customers, but this line, every day? Non. And that presents certain challenges: mainly, keeping up. Right now, Coiffard is still in the kitchen every morning. They had projected hiring two employees by now. Instead, the staff count is already eight and still growing. Meanwhile, demand is insatiable: They had 250 croissants today, and tomorrow are aiming for 500, and the capacity of the kitchen is 1,000, which might begin to satisfy the hunger of Brooklyn Heights.
The line is the best advertising there is, but Coiffard would like to be able to promise that you’ll at least get croissants at the end: “What we’ve been doing is, when people are at the end of the line, and there’s nothing left, we tell them, ‘Do you want to order for a day this week? Two days from now?’ So they prepay, and when they come back, they can skip the line.” But this, he has discovered, comes with its own set of complications, with some people mad, or at least pointedly confused, as to why other people appeared to be just waltzing in. “Especially last Saturday,” he tells me. Tempers were short; lines were long. “It was so hot. That day was bad.” He is still getting the hang of this. They keep running out of ice. “The ham,” which they use for sandwiches, “goes so quickly, so I go to Key Foods,” he says, nodding, somewhat ruefully, to his emergency supplier across Montague. “It’s probably one of the more expensive grocery stores in the city.” These things take time. It has only been two weeks and they want to figure out how to make sure everyone can get some pastry.
“How long does it take to get croissants?” a mother in line asked her bouncing baby last week. A tween boy stopped to see what was going on. “Ooh, I saw this on TikTok,” he said. Around 11, I watched as a barista dashed across the street to procure some emergency ice. “Isn’t this amazing?” one passerby said to another. A woman leaving her apartment took in the scene and made a vow to herself: “I am gonna line up one of these days.”